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Italian physicist, teacher and Nobel Laureate, Carlo Rubbia has demonstrated the existence of elementary particles that confirm predictions included in the “electro-weak” theory. This attempts to unite two of the four forces of nature — the weak and the electromagnetic forces — under the same set of equations. It also provides the basis for a “unified field theory”, encompassing the strong force that binds together the atomic nucleus and, ultimately, gravity as well. He currently divides his time between teaching at Harvard and the supervision of experiments at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), near Geneva, Switzerland.
Carlo Rubbia completed his university education at the Scuola Normale in Pisa, with a thesis on cosmic ray experiments, which, at that time, was under the guidance of Marcello Conversi.
Soon after receiving his degree, Rubbia worked with W. Baker at New York’s Columbia University to measure, for the first time, the angular asymmetry in the capture of polarized muons, thus demonstrating the presence of parity violation in this fundamental process. This was the first of a long series of experiments that Rubbia has performed in the field of weak interactions and that have culminated with the observation of the charged and neutral intermediate vector bosons, believed to be the mediators of such a force.
Since the first operation at CERN of a new type of accelerator, the Intersecting Storage Rings, Rubbia has participated in a long series of experiments using counter rotating beams of protons colliding against each other. These experiments were crucial in perfecting the techniques needed later for the discovery of the intermediate bosons, with colliding beams of protons and antiprotons.
Early in 1983, an international team of over 100 physicists headed by Rubbia at CERN detected the intermediate vector bosons, which became a cornerstone of modern theories of elementary particle physics.
Rubbia's team discovered the sixth and final quark (also called the “top” or the “truth” quark), completing another chapter in particle physics. Quarks are believed to be the fundamental constituents of which all other particles are made.
Together, these discoveries provide strong evidence that theoretical physicists are on the right track in their efforts to describe nature at its most basic level. To achieve energies high enough to create the intermediate vector bosons, Carlo Rubbia proposed, together with David Cline and Peter McIntyre, a radically new particle accelerator design, resulting in revolutionary techniques that were developed with Simon Van der Meer, with whom Rubbia shared the 1984 Nobel Prize for Physics.
Carlo Rubbia is also one of the leaders in the collaborative effort based deep in an abandoned silver mine in Utah, designed to detect any sign of decay of the proton. The experiment seeks evidence that would disprove the conventional belief that matter is stable.
In addition to winning the 1984 Nobel Prize for Physics, Carlo Rubbia received the 1983 Gold Medal of the Italian Physical Society, the 1983 Prize of the Accademia dei Lincei, the 1983 Lorenzo Il Magnifico Prize for Sciences as well as the 1984 A. de Gasperi Prize for Sciences. He has also received the highest honorific title of Italy, Cavaliere di Grande Croce.
Carlo Rubbia currently teaches one semester a year at Harvard. He spends the rest of his time mainly in Geneva where he oversees the experiments at the proton-antiproton collider.
Published in 1987